Ofcom Unveils 2021 Changes to Boost UK Full Fibre Broadband UPDATE

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of their Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review 2021-26 (FTMR), which sets out how various changes (Dark Fibre Access, copper retirement, regulation that varies by geographic area etc.) will be used to boost UK investment in “full fibre” broadband and high capacity Ethernet services.

The FTMR is rather different from past reviews because it is the first one to combine both the Business Connectivity Market Review (i.e. leased lines and Dark Fibre etc.) and the more residential focused Wholesale Local Access Market Review into a single holistic review of both markets, which also covers a much wider 5-year period (from April 2021 to 2026) than the usual 3-years

At present around 19% of UK homes and businesses can access a Fibre-to-the-Premises(FTTP) based broadband ISP network, rising to over 37% for all gigabit-capable (1Gbps+) services (here). On top of that the UK Government has an ambition to ensure that at least 85% of premises can access a “gigabit-capable” connection by the end of 2025 – supported by a £5bn investment for the hardest to reach areas (here).

A significant number of operators are already heavily involved in this work. Openreach (BT) is the largest and plans to cover 4.5 million premises with FTTP by March 2021 and then 20 million by around 2025-30. Some 2 million premises under Virgin Media’s expansion are also expected to get FTTP, although their entire network (c.16m premises) will be 1Gbps+ capable by the end of 2021 thanks to the DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade (here).

On top of that we have significant contributions planned by Cityfibre (1m premises by the end of 2021 and almost 8m after 2025), Hyperoptic (2m by the end of 2021 and an aspiration for 5m by 2024) and a mass of other alternative network (altnet) operators with big deployments (Summary of Full Fibre Build Plans).

What’s Going to Change?

Suffice to say that Ofcom’s review is laser focused on helping to lay the groundwork for the further expansion of “full fibre” networks across the United Kingdom, which it hopes to achieve by removing some remaining roadblocks to investment and supporting competition between networks.